TIME politics

It’s True: Liberals Like Cats More Than Conservatives Do

Preferences for pets or particular kinds of food can accurately predict partisanship, research from more than 200,000 TIME readers shows

In January, TIME ran a 12-question quiz that guessed your politics based on things like your preference for cats versus dogs and the neatness of your desk. The survey’s questions were all taken from previous research projects that found differences between liberals and conservatives on matters not directly related to politics. (You can still take the original quiz here.)

Many readers were skeptical, to say the least. The comments section simmered with protests like “Since WHEN does being a cat-lover make one a liberal?” and “Having a neat desk isn’t political.”

Loving cats may not make a person a liberal, but it does increase the odds that a person already is one. To see how accurate our survey was, we analyzed the data from 220,192 TIME readers who took the quiz and then volunteered their actual political preferences, and found that all 12 items did in fact predict partisanship correctly.

Even seemingly innocuous questions like ones about the state of one’s desk or preference for fusion cuisine had at least modest predictive power. A majority of TIME readers, like a majority of Americans, prefer dogs to cats, but conservatives had a significantly stronger preference, on average.

Overall, the quiz’s predictions were quite accurate when compared to a respondent’s self-reported ideology. (The correlation coefficient was 0.682, for those of you keeping score at home.) The individual questions varied in their predictive accuracy, from low (but non-negligible) correlation of 0.124 for the “cats versus dogs” question to 0.471 for the statement “I’m proud of my country’s history.”

When you add together a bunch of these modest predictors, you end up with a pretty good guess as to how a person votes. Not as good as asking people about their views on taxes, abortion and gun control, but enough to show that partisanship nowadays correlates with many non-political attitudes and behaviors.

Interestingly, Libertarians—often considered as being on the political right—fell between the liberal and conservative extremes on most questions. Even when it came to an affinity for nature’s truest libertarians: felines.

TIME infographic

Can TIME Predict Your Politics?

See how your preferences in dogs, Internet browsers, and 10 other items predict your partisan leanings.

Read Jonathan Haidt: Your Personality Makes Your Politics

Social scientists find many questions about values and lifestyle that have no obvious connection to politics can be used to predict a person’s ideology. Even a decision as trivial as which browser you’re using to read this article is imbued with clues about your personality. Are you on a Mac or PC? Did you use the default program that came with the computer or install a new one?

In the following interactive, we put together 12 questions that have a statistical correlation to a person’s political leanings, even if the questions themselves are seemingly apolitical. At the end of this (completely anonymous) quiz, we’ll use your responses to guess your politics.

How it works

We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of “openness to experience.” They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC’s default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression).

We also drew on several surveys from YourMorals.org for data about how values correspond to politics. Conservatives, for example, tend to value respect for authority and group loyalty more than liberals do. Conservatives, therefore, typically show less ambivalence about American history and have a stronger preference for dogs, who are more loyal and obedient than cats. Liberals are more universalist than nationalist; they tend to support the United Nations more, and to wish that the boundaries between countries and the divisions between nations would fade away (as in John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”)

Each of these items is only a weak predictor of ideology. We added them all together (weighting some more than others) to create a short scale with moderate predictive power. But of course people are highly variable. Many conservatives love exotic cuisines and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; many liberals have neat desks and hate cats. And many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension – such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.

For more in-depth surveys on a variety of subjects, please visit YourMorals.org.

Update: Jan. 10, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: It works! Our analysis of 17,000 responses from readers who chose to report their actual ideology found a strong correlation (r=0.604, for those of you keeping score) between a person’s self-reported ideology and the output of the quiz. This is a particularly strong correlation given the wide degree of personal variation in taste that is intrinsic to this sort of research.

The biggest weakness we discovered is that the results from our survey were less distributed across the spectrum than the figures for people’s self-reported ideologies. A person who reported themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative” tended to receive scores that were artificially close to the center. As of this update, the quiz now employs a basic statistical correction to more accurately reflect the extremity of one’s politics. The “direction” of the results—whether you’re more conservative or more liberal—is unchanged.

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